Character Interview: Olivia Romano, MD

  • Why did you become a doctor, and why did you choose oncology?
    I learned early on that I had a knack for making people feel better. I don’t want to say it was destiny, because I’m not sure I believe in that, but I never really seriously considered any other career field. Oncology because … reasons.
  • What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to face in your professional career?
    There was a colleague, Michael Shensen. He’d spent fifteen years or so in medicine as an oncologist, and was something of a mentor – no, he was my mentor, for a very long time. Dealt with pediatric oncology, which is by far the most emotionally brutal thing you can do in medicine. Anyway, he learned he had liver cancer. Stage IV. Missed all the warning signs because you’re taught as a doctor to not diagnose yourself or your family members, and he missed it. [wipes away a tear] Anyway, he put a bullet in his head the day after he got the diagnosis.
    I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been, to see your teacher end his tutelage so abruptly.
    I won’t lie, it was tough. Definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever seen.
  • What does a typical day look like to you?
    Start too early, drink too much coffee, paperwork, more paperwork. Rounds with the med school students, more paperwork. Lunch gets squeezed in there somewhere, usually right about the time I’m working on my research. More paperwork, then rounds with the residents. Paperwork, at least one meeting with a patient per day, more usually two or three, then dinner with a side of paperwork, and eventually bed.
  • What do you want for your patients more than anything else (except healing from their cancers)?
    That their family relationships be restored. A lot of times cancer takes an emotional toll on the families and friends that is greater than the emotional toll on the patient. Often the patient resolves him or herself to their fate, but the family most often has more difficulty. Sometimes they turn ugly and vindictive, other times they turn inward and introspective – they appear cold or cruelly detached. They hurt just as much, but often they don’t know how to talk about their pain.
  • How do you relax?
    I like to read, which sounds crazy given all the paperwork I just talked about, but as long as its light and meaningless it helps me get my mind off work. And I’ve recently taken up gardening, so yeah, there’s that.
  • What do you want to do that hasn’t been done yet?
    I want to find the cure to at least one cancer that’s plagued us for a while. That doesn’t sound like much, but since they all operate in similar ways, finding the key to one might turn out to be a skeleton key that unlocks all of them. I figure I should aim for the moon and if I miss, at least I’m headed for the stars.
  • How clear is your desk, and how clear is your signature?
    Neither is clear, not at all. At. All.
  • Any last minute health tips?
    Go for a jog, or at least a walk. Don’t be afraid of salad instead of a burger. Unless its the chicken Caesar from the hospital cafeteria. Be afraid of that one. Very afraid.